Political affairs

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Many people never consider the possibility of joining the political field. But why? Is it because it appears too daunting? Does it seem too cut- throat and competitive? Or does it just sound boring? In an attempt to find out more and to hopefully dispel these misconceptions, I decided to ask those within the political field for the truth. While it is a highly competitive field to get into, once you have established yourself in any department, it is very hard to leave the political world.

Your department invests a lot in you- including funding of extra degrees, and they encourage working across departments- allowing you to increase your scope. There is so much depth and breadth to the field, so many opportunities available, from working abroad to learning new skills and acquiring new knowledge. Many could argue that it is a world of it’s own where every kind of discipline can coexist. From administrative work, to public affairs, to IT, to marketing- the political field is not a closed shop.

Farzana Sunderji, a qualified barrister, decided to move into a career of politics to broaden her experience and see what she could achieve. She found the bar challenging and insular and wanted to become a part of the bigger picture. She now works for a minister in the Foreign Office who deals with issues such as human rights, drugs and international crime, climate change and the overseas territories. ‘Public Service has always been emphasised in our community, service to mankind, and now I am part of a team who try and influence matters throughout the world; I work in an environment looking to better the world.

According to Farzana, the main downside to her job is the remuneration. However this is the case in a lot of public service work. In addition, ‘There is a lot of bureaucracy present in the political environment, and thus a certain level of tolerance is needed. You are continually faced with conflicting variables and thus you need to be adaptable. ‘ For Farzana working in the Foreign Office, there are tremendous opportunities to learn about various issues globally and how strategy and insight is important to addressing them. I regularly meet presidents, ministers and ambassadors of other countries. It is high profile and intriguing work with never a dull moment. I am at the cutting edge of current affairs. ‘

Nadia Verjee also works in the political field but as the political assistant to Baroness Sarah Ludford- who is a MEP. Nadia’s job is to provide political analysis and support to her elected official. For her, she gets to see the rewards of her work directly; ‘I write the speeches that Baroness Ludford reads out- there is no middle man involved. Like Farzana, Nadia did not always want to be in politics. Her undergraduate degree was in Hispanic studies and it was only during her masters- in European Studies that she began to consider a career in politics. ‘There is no hurry to join politics, for your undergraduate degree you should follow your interests. ‘ As a political assistant, she has no average day and this she says is the beauty of her job. Her job, like Farzana’s is very challenging and demanding and this is another appealing aspect.

Being a political assistant is not a job for the quiet and timid. ‘When working for an elected official, accuracy is key and there is no scope for error. You are constantly working against deadlines and hence speed is also an issue. Because you are representing your official you have to be as professional as possible at all times. ‘ Getting a job as a political assistant is incredibly competitive- there are approximately four hundred applicants for each place, and hence Nadia recommends that anyone interested in joining that field should start8 out early.

The European Commission runs a ‘Stage’ Internship programme, with a formal intake of six hundred people twice a year. This gives you the opportunity to get a feel for the environment which you want to work in. Nadia did her Stage Internship in Washington DC, and thus was able to get an insight into transatlantic relations. Furthermore, she recommends that if you know you want a career in politics; contacts are imperative. ‘Do work experience in a constituency office for an MP- get to know them, try and build a relationship with them. ‘

Both Nadia and Farzana agree that one of the main advantages of the political field is that there are no prerequisites- although some skills are useful, such as language or IT or even a degree in politics, they are not necessary for you to establish yourself as a key member in this field. You can come in with any degree, from any background and as long as you have an eager interest in current affairs and political issues, as well as determination, you will succeed. Lord Bhatia is also involved in politics but at a different dimension again.

Over the past 40 years he has been involved in voluntary and charitable work and he continues to work in various charities in the UK as a trustee or a patron or an advisor. He was nominated by friends to the House of Lords Independent Appointments Committee in 2000 and was appointed as a crossbencher (independent) peer in 2001. Therefore there has been no transition. Indeed my charity work continues and the House of Lords is an additional activity in which I am now involved. It has been an interesting experience coming in to the House of Lords as a crossbencher.

One has to work very hard to participate- lots of reading, lots of meetings, and lots of consulation with people who have knowledge and expertise in a whole range of issues. I sat on a select committee for almost 10 months, which was asked to take evidence from public on Religious Offencews Bill- a private members bill. The committee took evidence in person and in writing from numerious members of the public and institutions and finally submitted a three volume report to the house of lords.

A fascinating piece of work and is likely to end up in a new legislation. Yes I do participate in debates which are of interest to me, but one has to be sure that you know the subject well and can add value to the debate. One has to constantly remind oneself that on any given subject there are scores of peers in the chamber who have had 30-40 years real expertise on the subject. The rewarding/satisfyuing aspect of the work is the learning and knowing about maters that I would have never known. The house of lords does not pass law or legislation.

It is a revising and reviewing chamber. It receives legislation from the House of Commons and its task is to go through the proposed legislation word by word and line by line and to suggest amendments to the House of Commons. At times, even a word could make a difference in the ultimate legislation and how it would work when the law is used by the people or the authorities. There are no downsides except that you have to put in lots of hours in the work and meet lots of people all the time. There is never enough time.

I was never interested in politics before but feel privledged to be appointed to the House of Lords and to involve myself in the legislative process of one of the oldest democracies in the world. Any one can join in poilitics. But one must have the desire and drive to get there. The best way to be involved in politics is to start at local council elections and gradually move upwards in local council committees. It is best to know and understand as to which political party you wish to join and then gradually get the party to offer you a safe seat when the general elections or a by election takes place.

Lots of hard work- but very rewarding, when you get there! The other route is to get a political party to nominate you for a seat in the House of Lords. But here one has to serve as a party member. And finally there is the house of lords independent appointments commission through which you could be appointed. I understand that there are hundreds or a few thousand applications that are made and therefore you have to be very good and very lucky to get through that progress- but certainly worth trying if you are so inclined.

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